by Daveda Gruber:
On Tuesday night the White House claimed a major legislative victory. The Senate incredibly approved a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill backed by President Trump.
Lawmakers had to defeat three amendments pushed by conservative Republicans. Finally, the bill was approved 87-12.
The bill will have to go to the House where it is expected to be approved swiftly.
On Wednesday White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said on TV that “This is not for hardened criminals … it’s people who really want to re-enter into society.”
Passing the bill and getting it to the president’s desk would mark a major win for Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Kushner worked the halls of Congress for months in an effort to create a compromise to make this happen.
With lawmakers and the Trump administration clashing over everything from the border wall to the Russia probe, the vote surprised many with an unusual flash of bipartisanship.
Trump congratulated the Senate in a tweet:
….This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
The “three strikes” for some drug offenders with three convictions getting life would be reduced to 25 years. Federal judges would have more discretion when sentencing. It also boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts.
A provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.
The nation’s war on drugs has overflowed prison population. There has been no help preparing people to return to society.
The bill got the support of Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Booker said the nation’s prisons are full of Americans who are struggling with mental illness and addiction, and who are overwhelmingly poor. He said the nation’s criminal justice system “feeds on certain communities and not on others,” and said the bill represents a step toward “healing” for those communities.
Booker said, “Let’s make no mistake, this legislation, which is one small step, will affect thousands and thousands of lives.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles (Chuck) Grassley, R-Iowa, pleaded with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring it up for a vote.
After yrs of bipartisan work w Sens Durbin & Lee The First Step Act passed the Senate 2night w a big bipartisan victory 87-12 vote Historic criminal justice reform happens once in a generation Now on its way 2 House & Pres Trump waiting w a pen to sign
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) December 19, 2018
2night Senate had resounding 82-12 vote Cloture invoked on the First Step Act & up to 30 hrs of debate begins Full backing of Pres Trump + I’ve worked hard w bipartisan group of senators Durbin/Lee/Booker for badly needed crim justice reform
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) December 18, 2018
Trump appealed to McConnell and he ultimately agreed and voted for the bill as well.
Senators had voted down three amendments introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and John Kennedy, R-La.
First to fail 67-32 required that victims be notified before a prisoner is given early release.
The second to fail would have required the federal Bureau of Prisons to track and report the re-arrest rate for each prisoner who receives early release, was defeated 66-33.
Then came the third failure which would have excluded certain prisoners from education and training programs which would allow them to toward earlier release to a halfway house or a home confinement, was voted down by 62-37.
Urging lawmakers to support the amendments, Cotton said, “This would not solve all the problems of the bill, but it would at least ensure some of these most heinous criminals who prey on young children or the vulnerable are not released early from prison.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois had described the amendments as “poison pills” that would have undone bipartisan support for the bill.
He explained that authors of the legislation already carved out some 60 different crimes making prisoners ineligible for early supervised release. Durbin also maintained Cotton’s amendment was too expansive and would prevent at least 30,000 prisoners from participation.
Senator Mike Lee, R-UT tweeted:
We did it. We passed real bipartisan criminal justice reform. Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues, American families will be stronger and our communities will be safer. This is a huge win for America and President @realDonaldTrump.
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) December 19, 2018
Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted:
Criminal justice reform is about giving more Americans a chance at redemption. The House looks forward to sending it to the president to become law.
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) December 19, 2018
Don’t get me wrong, Ryan is leaving and I’m delighted to see him go.
Durbin said the Federal Bureau of Prisons also gives victims the opportunity to be notified upon a change in the prisoner’s status, but that’s a choice they can make themselves.
Durbin also said about 10 percent of victims choose not to be notified because of the trauma involved in revisiting the crime. The amendment from Cotton and Kennedy would make it a requirement.
Durbin said, “Supporting the Cotton amendment is basically saying to these crime victims, ‘We’re going to force this information on you whether it’s in the best interest of your family, whether you want it or not.’ That is not respectful of crime victims.”
A rather rare alliance of conservative and liberal advocacy groups supported the bill and said the changes would make the nation’s criminal justice system fairer, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and save taxpayer dollars.
The 12 votes against the bill came from Republican senators.
The 13th Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, did not vote.
The bill would affect only federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 percent of the country’s prison population.
It does not affect state prisons.
I believe the bill is a good start to bipartisan lawmaking. If only the new House will be able to work together in a bipartisan manner.
I must be dreaming in Technicolor. After this session, the House will be out to get Trump any way they can.
Trump has many obstacles in his way. First and foremost is the mainstream media that brainwashes the majority of the American people. Next it is the Democrats who are so anti-Trump that they scheme in their sleep. Then there is the Republican party who can’t agree with each other.
Make no mistake, Trump’s wall has a lot of opposition in Congress; but that was another article that I wrote.